Sam had seen the slip of a girl in the corner when he came in the McDonalds. He did wonder what someone so young was doing there at that hour, he really didn’t put too much thought into it. And when his wife called complaining about him being gone too long, he completely forgot about her. That was until he caught a glimpse of her slipping out the door from the corner of his eye. He took in the backpack that looked like it was going to topple her and then she just kinda disappeared.
Naw, she wouldn’t…..would she? Could she be that stupid? Or that desperate? He thought. He had finished up his late supper and cleaned up his trash. As he stepped out of McDonalds he took a few steps and then he began to whistle “Momma don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys” and watched the movement under his tarp freeze.
Carrie was ready to pull her knife if the tarp were to be pulled up suddenly; but she just heard that slightly off tune whistling and then a chirp from the truck and the driver’s door opened. She felt the truck move slightly as someone got into the truck and then the door slammed shut. The truck hummed to life and began to back up. Carrie took a deep breath. Moving very slowly she was able to make herself comfortable and the movement of the truck soon had her lulled sound asleep.
Inside the cab of the truck, Sam wondered what he was going to do. The girl must be desperate if the looks of her weren’t deceiving but he just couldn’t dump her anywhere including leaving her back there at that McDonald’s. His wife would shoot him, cut him up into little pieces, feed him to the hogs, and then she would get mad.
He also didn’t want to frighten her, HE knew she was safe with him, but SHE didn’t. All he could do was play it by ear and hopefully keep her safe and find a way to assure her that he was one of the good guys. He sent a prayer up to the Big Guy thanking Him that it was HIS truck the young one had slipped into.
In the back of the truck, Carrie woke briefly after the truck hit a pot hole. She decided that she ought to send a prayer and thank God for watching out for her and ask that He keep on keeping a close eye and a protective hand on her. Soon she was back asleep.
It was 4am when Sam decided to pull over, gas up, grab some more coffee and empty his bladder. He had picked this spot because he knew the owners were good people and if the girl decided to slip out here, she would be fairly safe. If she was smart enough to go into the store. He would let the owners know about her in case she decided to not ride in his truck anymore.
Thankfully the rain had let up but the early morning was quite cold.
Getting out of the truck, Sam went to the side of his truck and as he filled it with gas he began to talk to himself.
“Sam boy, good thing you stopped here, they’ve got a nice bathroom, hot coffee, and cheap gas. And if a person needed anything -why this here is the place.”
Now Carrie wasn’t stupid by any means and she knew now beyond a doubt that the guy really knew she was there. Crap! She thought. Oh well, may as well get this over with, I knew it wouldn’t last long.
Sam was startled by the shaking of the tarp and then surprised by the small face that popped out from under. He hadn’t thought she would show herself. Well, she is full of surprises!
Carrie looked into Sam’s face and said “Hi mister, I’m sorry I stole a ride in your truck. I’ll get out now and I promise you I didn’t mess with anything back here.” She gathered up her things and retied her bedroll under her pack and once it was all settled back on her back, she began to climb over the tailgate to the ground.
“Well, it’s ok. I mean if this is the way you were going. But you could have asked first. Although I do understand why you might not of wanted to ask.” Sam said.
“I’ll be on my way. Thanks and again I am sorry.” Carrie began to walk towards the highway.
Crap! Thought Sam, she isn’t even going to go into the store. I can’t let her just take off. Rhonda will more than have my hide!
“Wait!” he called.
Carrie hesitated and looked back at him with distrust and suspicion on her face.
“If you are headed west, you can still have a ride. And you can even ride in the front where there is heat…or in the back if you feel safer.” He added as her face took on even more distrust, if that was possible.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ll show you that I trust you first and then you can decide if you trust me, deal?” he asked.
“And how are you going to do that?” she asked.
Just then the pump automatically clicked off which indicated that the truck’s tank was full.
Sam’s brain clicked into an idea and he figured it just might work.
“I’ll let you go pay for my gas. It came to $48.32 and I’ll give you a hundred dollar bill. You can go in and pay for the gas and ask the owners about me. That way they can look out, see who I am and tell you all about me without me having been in the store first.”
Carrie thought about it for a moment and it seemed like it was a fair deal. After all, she could just take the money and run, not that she figured she would get far. But it did seem like he was being sincere. And it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try.
“Ok, but if those people in there do not vouch for you, I’m keeping your change and getting the heck outta there.”
“Fair enough.” He slid his wallet out and pulled out a hundred and walked up to the front of his truck and slipped it under the wiper. Then he backed all the way to the back of the truck.
Carrie slowly made her way to the truck and with her eyes on Sam, slid the bill out from under the wiper and then backed up. She then abruptly turned and marched into the store. Sam sighed in relief. The hard part was over.
Once inside, Carrie approached the counter. There was a smiling older woman behind and brightly she said “Hi honey, how can I help you today?”
Carrie said “I need to pay for some gas for that guy out there.” As she pointed out the glass door.
“Oh so you’re with Sam. Are you a relative of his?”
“No. I stole a ride in the back of his truck and now he is offering me a ride further west.” Carrie figured that since the woman knew him, she may as well be honest with her.
Carrie was surprised when the woman began to laugh warmly. “Well, Sam is very good at having strays find him. Sometimes it drives his dear wife crazy. I can honestly say that if Sam is offering you a ride, then he is being sincere. And that you are safe with him.”
Carrie was thoughtful for a moment wondering if she could also trust this woman’s words or not.
“My name’s Annie by the way, and here is your change.”
Annie? Was that some kind of sign? Carrie wondered and then slightly shook her head in wonderment.
“Do you have a bathroom I could use?” she asked.
“Sure thing honey, it’s around the back.”
“Thank you.” Carrie said as she walked back out the door. She walked back to the truck and handed Sam his change. “The lady inside said I could trust you. I’ll think about your offer but if I’m not back in five minutes, feel free to not wait and don’t worry about me.”
Carrie walked around to the back of the store in search of the bathroom. Sam watched her go and then walked into the store. “Hi Annie. What do you think of my little stole away?”
Annie had come around the counter and had been watching the scene outside; she wrapped Sam up in a big ole hug and said “she sure is little. Why she can’t be more than 12 or so. How in the world did she find you?”
“She slipped into the back of the truck at a McDonald’s about five hours ago. I couldn’t kick her out, it was raining pretty hard and we were not in the best part of town. I felt bad about leaving her back there while I was snug and warm up front, but I didn’t want to scare her and I figured she would think she was safer out there.”
“Well, she is honest. Came in here and flat out told me that she stole away and then just listened with those big eyes of hers on me the whole time I expounded on your virtues. I was compelled to be honest with her. I think that poor child has seen too much in her short life.”
Sam agreed with her and then begged some of her good coffee to go. Five minutes and another hug later, he was back at his truck with a steaming cup of hot coffee, some packs of peanuts and sunflower seeds but with no sign of the girl anywhere.
He went to the bathroom to give her more time but she still wasn't there when he got back.
He checked the back of the truck to make sure but she wasn’t there. He was just finishing securing the tarp once more when she walked back around the corner of the building towards the truck.
Inwardly, Sam let out the knot that had formed in his gut without him even realizing it.
Carrie came up to the truck and with her head only showing above the side of the truck bed said “Ok, I’ve thought about it and have decided that I will take you up on your offer on two conditions.”
“Ok, what are those?”
“First of all, I want to help pay for the gas.” Sam began to protest but Carrie cut him off “I really feel that I must pay some for gas. The second condition is not up for negotiation. I get to search the truck for any weapons you might use against me.”
“Ok, be my guest and search the truck cab but I can’t take any money for gas because I’m not really going out of my way.” Inwardly Sam was thankful that he had taken out the one handgun he usually kept in there. When traveling across state lines, like this trip, he usually took the gun out just in case he was pulled over. It was easier than having to go through all the paperwork of carrying concealed in other states. Someday he may regret it but today he was doubly glad.
Sam stayed at the back of the truck as Carrie carefully searched the inside coming up almost empty handed, just 27 cents in change which she put in the little change holder that already had some loose quarters and dimes in it.
“Ok.” She said and she climbed into the cab with her pack at her feet on the floor.
Sam climbed in and they were off. The cab was quiet so Sam decided to attempt to talk to her. “Do yo mind if I ask your name?”
Carrie looked over at him thoughtfully, “I guess I at least owe you that. It’s Carrie.”
Being a natural born talker, Sam thought It’s gonna be like pulling teeth with this one. She must have been really through hell if she is this distrustful. “Well, I hope you don’t mind me, I like to talk so do you mind if I tell you a bit about myself?”
Carrie cocked an eyebrow and said “Go ahead.” The more you talk, the less I have to.
Sam proceeded to tell her all about his wife, Rhonda and how she was home keeping the home-fires burning, chickens happy, and most likely cursing him soundly since he was so far from home. Carrie could tell that he really loved his wife since his eyes got all dreamy when he spoke of her and she really didn’t believe that he could love someone so much if she was as mean as he was pretending.
In between bits of the story, he would pop a few peanuts into his mouth or sip on his coffee.
Carrie looked over at him when he suddenly got very quiet. His eyes were huge and he was pointing at his throat.
Oh my God! He’s choking!